Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke harshly attacked the Arizona Democrat who is set to lead the committee overseeing his department in the next Congress, accusing him Friday of alcoholism and calling on him to resign from Congress.
“It’s hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle,” Zinke said of U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva in a statement Zinke posted to Twitter. “This is coming from a man who used nearly $50,000 in tax dollars as hush money to cover up his drunken and hostile behavior. He should resign and pay back the taxpayer for the hush money and tens of thousands of dollars he forced my department to spend investigation unfounded allegations.”
Grijalva, D-Ariz., is set to lead the House Natural Resources Committee next year.
Zinke was responding to an op-ed Grijalva wrote that was published Friday in USA Today calling on the Interior head to resign because of numerous ethics allegations investigations he is facing.
"I take no pleasure in calling for this step, and I have resisted it even as questions have grown about Mr. Zinke’s ethical and managerial failings," said Grijalva in the op-ed. "Unfortunately, his conduct in office and President Donald Trump’s neglect in setting ethical standards for his own cabinet have made it unavoidable."
Grijalva has pledged to initiate his own investigations against Zinke if he takes control of the Natural Resources Committee in January.
Later Friday, Grijalva issued a statement responding to Zinke's tweet.
“The American people know who I’m here to serve, and they know in whose interests I’m acting," Grijalva said. “They don’t know the same about Secretary Zinke.”
Zinke, in his attack, is likely referring to a $48,000 settlement Grijalva approved in 2015 "to a woman who accused him of being frequently drunk and creating a hostile work environment," a severance agreement that the Washington Times has reported on.
Grijalva later denied the allegations in the Arizona Daily Star, despite paying the settlement.
“I do not work while drunk and have never had a hostile workplace environment,” he said.
Grijalva acknowledged problems with alcohol decades ago.
In 1985, according to the Arizona Republic newspaper, Grijalva pleaded guilty in a drunken-driving case when he was a board member of the Tucson Unified School District.
Zinke, meanwhile, is facing his own troubles.
According to the Denver-based Center for Western Priorities, as of October, there have been 18 probes launched or requested by members of Congress against Zinke, including investigations by the Office of Special Counsel and Interior’s inspector general.
Most prominently, Zinke is facing a Justice Department investigation into whether he used his Interior office for personal gain, following a referral from Interior’s inspector general.
The exact scope of the DOJ investigation is unclear. However Zinke has come under scrutiny for a real estate deal between David Lesar, the chairman of oil services giant Halliburton, and a Montana foundation he used to run before his wife took over.
The inspector general is also looking into reports that Zinke decided not to grant two Native American tribes in Connecticut approval to build a casino. The decision followed a lobbying push by two Nevada Republican lawmakers to block the approval.
President Trump has said he is reviewing the allegations, although he has added that he has no immediate plans to fire Zinke.
Jennifer Rokala, the Center for Western Priorities' executive director, had this to say Friday about Zinke's tweet attacking Grijalva:
“Even by Secretary Zinke’s standards, this is a new low. It’s unbecoming of a cabinet secretary. It’s also foolish to pick a fight with a member of Congress who will soon have oversight and subpoena power over your agency. We, and the American people, look forward to full investigations into Secretary Zinke’s unprecedented and ongoing ethical lapses.”